A Musicologist Defends the D.M.A.
In Milo Velimirovic's excellent, forthright article "The Profession of Musicology: Today and Tomorrow," there lies, almost hidden among much that I find both stimulating and convincing, one viewpoint with which I am in such strong disagreement that I must reply. Prof. Velimirovic wrote: "I submit that the institution of the D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree represents another instance of the devaluation of the concept of a doctor's degree, contributing to its proliferation." And a little later: "There is no reason in the world why a master-performer on any musical instrument must have a doctorate in order to receive a tenured appointment, and there is no reason why the Master's degree should be viewed as insufficient for persons who have no scholarly ambitions or interests."1
It is the old argument all over again, the scarred old battle-ground of the 1950s. The viewpoint, essentially, is that the doctorate should be reserved for the particular brand of creative thinking that we call "scholarly;" all other areas of creative intellectual work must find other means of recognition.
I confess that this was, in the days of the first efforts to establish the D.M.A., my own view; and I argued with friends about it, with all the vehemence of a beginning professional still embroiled in the process of finishing a Ph.D. in historical musicology. My change of opinion came about largely because of the practical results of the D.M.A.; but in the process of changing my mind, I came to realize that the opponents of the D.M.A. have failed to answer certain logically forthcoming questions.
If the Master's degree is suitable for a performer, why is not the doctorate? Prof. Velimirovic wishes to restore "the dignity and respect for a Master's degree"—certainly a worthy goal. But no such restoration can ignore the fact that the Master's degree in American education is generally a lower academic degree than the doctorate.2 If an academic degree is suitable in performance at one level, I see no reason why it is not suitable at the other.
It is difficult to disagree with the opinion that no "master-performer" should have to have a doctorate in order to receive a tenured appointment; but again the inconsistency is unavoidable: there is no reason why a master-scholar should have a doctorate either. The academic establishment should always be ready to recognize achievement attained through non-academic routes. Very exceptional talent often develops most fruitfully outside the conventional paths; and if our conception of degrees ever makes it impossible for these masters to contribute to teaching in educational institutions, then we had better think about abolishing all degrees. But that time has not come, fortunately. Without digging very deeply into our personal experience, we can all think of master performers with lower degrees or no degrees happily and securely working as top-level faculty members in our universities and colleges.
Besides, there is more than one kind of performer, and there are masters among all types. During discussions of the Ph.D. in composition, I remember one of the strong advocates saying, "We are not talking about the composer whose recognition comes from notices in Time magazine." A parallel can be drawn for performers. There are some very worthy performers who do not care for life under the aegis of a New York concert manager or in the confines of a major orchestra. There are those whose talent and temperament (while perhaps no less masterful) are in some fashion unsuited for the partially commercial business of establishing a reputation in the world of professional concert-giving. For these, the academic world is justified in creating its own recognition.
The D.M.A., then, meets a need that arose inevitably when performers were integrated into the academic system of American colleges and universities, because it is difficult to find valid reasons why they should not possess degrees the equivalent of those awarded to scholars. Quite simply, the existence of the D.M.A. recognizes the essential nature of degrees in academia: as Arthur Mendel pointed out in these pages more than ten years ago, the degree is a license to teach.3
Let me stress that I would never defend the D.M.A. (or any other degree, for that matter) on the basis that it makes the club exclusive or that it sets up a single route for establishing credentials. There is, nevertheless, another side of the coin. If we all know—and welcome—performers working in academia without advanced degrees, we must also admit that we can all think of very capable performers—performers with impeccable credentials in the semi-commercial concert world—who do not meet all the qualifications of a university faculty member. I shall not expand on this point. The competent performer whose training has produced cultural and intellectual limitations is a sad but familiar case.
Although the D.M.A. is a performer's degree, its most important achievement for the education of musicians has been, not to raise the technical standard of performance, but to raise the educational and intellectual standards of performers.4 The D.M.A. as it exists today is tacit yet forceful recognition that mere performance is not enough. This is the aspect, it seems to me, that has been a boon of incalculable value to musicology. The United States has now raised a generation of performers who have been through the mill of music history, so to speak. Although not trained as research scholars, they have been exposed to the research scholar's work. They know something of his methods, and more significantly they understand his purpose and the meaning of his contribution.
Of course no scholar wants to judge research in musicology purely by its pragmatic results in terms of performance. We do not investigate the history and the theory of music exclusively or even primarily for utilitarian reasons. Our work springs from the same impulse that motivates the abstract scientist, the passion to know and understand.
And yet, as humanists and (hopefully) practical men of the 20th century, we must be concerned with the dissemination and use of knowledge. The ivory tower has long since been demolished. Like a political movement confined to honest men, a musical movement confined to musicologists will never amount to much; there are too few of them. When the research scholar teaches, the training of other research scholars is part of his task. But self-reproduction is not enough. He must spend a large portion of his time, not with the already converted, but with the unconverted. The D.M.A. provides a platform from which (to use Prof. Velimirovic's apt words) "we can keep proselytizing for this most wonderful of all fields of study"—and proselytizing among the very group in which understanding is most essential.
Has the D.M.A. really "de-valued" the doctorate? I think not. The proliferation of the performance degree has been impressive but not excessive. The current CMS Directory lists a total of 41 institutions giving the D.M.A. (or its equivalent) in performance—six less than the number granting the Ph.D. in musicology. The great majority are institutions of some prestige, and most of them had sound music programs before the beginning of the D.M.A. More significant for the particular bias of this discussion, most have strong programs in musicology.
The fear, moreover, that standards in the academic areas would not be upheld has proven groundless. The administrators and teachers who initiated the D.M.A. were aware of the suspicions of the traditional academic community, and they made a special effort to become "academically respectable" quickly. Indeed, I can remember a few cries of anguish from the first generation of D.M.A. students at the amount of time required away from the instrument. Some of them had not bargained for so much history, so much theory. Above all, perhaps, they had not bargained for the need to learn how to write the English language. Some demonstration, through literary means, of the ability to deal with music on the intellectual plane has been from the beginning and remains today a positive element in most D.M.A. programs. And who is guiding these demonstrations—documents, projects, reports, or whatever name they go by? Usually, it is the musicologist.
Musicologists, I believe, have made the most of the opportunities thrust upon them by the D.M.A. The interest of performers in the work of the musicologist has become evident most obviously in their increased concern for "authentic" performance practice. The evidence is equal—and equally important—in the esteem in which the scholar is often held. The continued rapid rise of musicology in this country could not have taken place as it did had the discipline been confined by exclusively academic boundaries. The purpose of the D.M.A. was, at least in part, to give academic standing to the performer in the traditional university setting. Happily, the result has turned out to be a two-way street: the musicologist has been given standing in the school of music. American musicologists and performers have learned much in the past two decades about living together and communicating with mutual benefit. The millennium has not yet arrived in this area, but the old contemptuous references to "clerks" and "scribblers" on the one hand and to "finger wigglers" on the other are rare these days. It is my belief that the D.M.A. has contributed to this happier state of affairs.
Prof. Velimirovic is, as he admits, "swimming against a tidal wave." I am, by the same token, "swimming with the current," which may be just as dangerous. I would not like to leave an impression of disagreement with his basic thesis; much of what he says—his concern for standards and for the meaning of degrees, his warning of the possible effects of uncontrolled growth—is applicable to the D.M.A. as well as the Ph.D.
But I suspect that the academic profession is one of the few in the world that may sometimes suffer from too much self-criticism. We seem to know very well what we have done that is wrong, but we sometimes fail to recognize what we have done that is right. One of the right things of the past generation was the establishment of the doctoral degree for performers. As a musicologist, I have been one of the beneficiaries of that right action, and I am happy to come to its defense.
1College Music Symposium XIV (1974), 22-31. Prof. Velimirovic's discussion (and mine) obviously applies to the earned D.M. also.
2The exception that comes to mind is the M.F.A., recognized by the College Art Association as the terminal degree for an artist as opposed to an art historian. My experience has not convinced me that the effort to elevate the M.F.A. to the level of the doctorate has been wholly successful. Confusion still exists, with some M.F.A. degrees organized as terminal degrees while others clearly are not. More important, it seems to me that our colleagues in art have made less progress than we have in recent years in bridging the gulf between the practitioner and the theorist-historian.
3"The Doctorate in Composition," College Music Symposium III (1963), 54.
4I must continue to emphasize, at the risk of redundancy, that I am not implying cultural inadequacy on the part of all who do not possess the magic letters. The degree is an indication of work accomplished and, therefore, a useful measure in conjunction with other factors. Neither its possession nor its lack is a guarantee.
Last modified on Friday, 14/02/2014